Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illnesses. However, 99% of people do not wash their hands correctly, and 33% of individuals use personal electronic devices while cooking and do not wash their hands after touching a device. Seven outbreaks in 2021 so far have been caused by food pathogens. Individuals 50 years of age and older are at greater risk for hospitalization due to food pathogens because of natural reduced immunity.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects meat, poultry, and eggs, and ensures humane methods to slaughter livestock.1 The FSIS identifies three goals: prevent foodborne illnesses and protect public health; modernize inspection systems, policies, and the use of scientific approaches; and achieve operational excellence.
Food recalls and public health alerts
Since January 1, 2021, 8 active food recalls and 11 public health alerts have been issued for reasons of product contamination, import violation, production without benefit of inspection, misbranding, mislabeling, unreported allergens, and unfit for human consumption. Food recalls are classified as Class I: High or medium risk (reasonable probability that use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death), Class II: Low risk (remote probability for adverse health consequences), and Class III: marginal risk (will not cause adverse health consequences). In cases where a public health alert or warning is issued without a recall, the product is no longer available for purchase by the public.1 Food recalls are issued after FSIS investigations, consumer complaints, or reports of increased or clustered cases of foodborne illnesses by clinicians or public health officials. COVID-19 affected food safety in meat-processing plants across the US in 2020 and resulted in multiple actions. The federal, state, and local governments carry responsibility for food safety through inspection and monitoring, but the responsibility falls to the consumer at the point of purchase.
The FSIS is committed to helping the public learn best practices for how to buy, prepare, and store food safely, which includes information on preparing for possible weather and other emergencies that can impact food supply. COVID-19 also changed how consumers shop with a steep rise in those using food delivery services for grocery items and prepared food, triggering questions about food safety in transit.2
Awareness of food safety
The FSIS offers four rules for food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. These present major challenges for those who are homeless, live in shelters, or are too poor to afford food. How can food safety be a concern when food insecurity dominates these peoples' lives? Grenier and Wynn followed food safety principles in establishing a nurse-led food surplus program to donate unconsumed food from a hospital to local shelters for distribution to families in need.3
In assessing the impact of social determinants of health on a patient's health status, NPs ask questions about food practices. Be mindful and respectful in providing patient-centered care. In working with other professionals, improving access not just to healthy and adequate food but also ensuring safe food handling to prevent foodborne illnesses among patients are fundamental to nursing practice. These are all things to keep in mind this month, as September is National Food Safety Education Month.
Jamesetta A. Newland, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, DPNAP, FAAN
Editor-in-Chief [email protected]
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. Food safety. www.fsis.usda.gov/about-fsis
3. Grenier J, Wynn N. A nurse-led intervention to address food insecurity in Chicago. OJIN
. 2018;23(3):Manuscript 4. DOI:10.3912/OJIN.Vol23No03Man04.